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Hollywood's bully(ing) pulpit: The 'ungospel' of the Oscars

While Franklin Graham is being denied the use of seven venues in the UK to preach the gospel of grace, Hollywood celebrities have had a bully pulpit at the Academy Awards to propound the “ungospel” of their various “oughts” and legalisms to the whole world.

Wallace Henley Portrait
Wallace Henley |

Al Mohler described “Morality, Hollywood Style,” and its confusing ambiguity in a 2009 column. “The liberal variant seems most evident when, for example, moral relativists all of a sudden discover moral scruples. The other liberal variant that so often appears is the argument that artists or celebrities or academics are above the morality to which the rest of society is accountable.”

Sean Fitzpatrick, writing at Catholic Exchange, also pondered the ambiguity of Hollywood morality, as reflected in the wildly popular “Hunger Games.” The quandary of that series, and those like it, Fitzpatrick argued, “is that the moral code is not necessarily invited to play a part.” Such films “very often present physical actions that bear no palpable spiritual consequence,” creating “a permeating ethical vacuum” and “sheer moral ambiguity.”

Yet the Oscar preachers want to chastise and warn us anyway with a litany of sins. Just consider this sampling of “oughts” and “ought nots” thundered at this year’s Academy Awards:

  • Veganism — We ought to avoid eating meat
  • Speciesism — We ought not to regard ourselves as superior to animals
  • Marxism — We ought to support the uniting of the world’s workers to create paradise
  • Animal rights — We ought to cease killing or using animals for our own use
  • Donald Trump — We ought to support the president’s full impeachment

“Gospel” means “good news.” The bad news is that sin erects an impossible barrier to knowing God in this world and living in His holy presence in the world to come. The good news is that God has got us covered through the atonement of the only One who lived and walked among us as one of us, yet was totally without a sin-debt, and therefore had the “currency” of holiness to pay ours.

Christ’s innocence cancels the guilt of all who will receive it. We are “justified by His blood” and “saved by His life.” (Romans 5:9-11)

Meanwhile, the “ungospel” smears us with guilt and leaves us there. Some who would castigate the Old Testament for its rules tell us the only way to be saved is to eat right, treat animals right, and vote right, along with all the other acts of contrition prescribed in the preachments of the celebrities.

Actor Joaquin Phoenix was one of the major preachers from the Oscars pulpit February 9. On another occasion he had described his worldview like this: “I don’t believe in God… an afterlife… a soul… I don’t believe in nothing. I think it’s totally right for people to have their own beliefs if it makes them happy.”  

C.S. Lewis summarized the contradictions of what we call here the “ungospel” (demonstrated starkly in the celebrity messages) like this: “If we ask: ‘Why ought I to be unselfish?’ and you reply ‘Because it is good for society,’ we may then ask, ‘Why should I care what’s good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?’ and then you will have to say, ‘Because you ought to be unselfish ’— which simply brings us back to where we started.”

The reality is that ultimate oughtness exists and pulls us upward. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”

Dawn Dunning, who has accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, said that he told her, “This is how the industry works.” Apparently, that meant that she “ought” to submit to the mighty producer’s alleged demands.

In an age described by some as that of the “unchurching” of America, many people get their theology and ethical teachings from Hollywood’s preachy film. Then they hear the stars who loom as large as the Nephilim of old, many of whom have no doctrine of sin and grace, tell them how bad they are for not eating right, voting right, respecting animals right, and all the rest.

The ungospel is stifling to true freedom and kills hope.

Much better is what Jesus says than what the celebrity blusterers proclaim: “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

Therefore, wrote Paul, keep standing firm in the liberty through which Christ has set you free, and don’t be subject again to a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)

Even if those yokes are dangled from a stunning grandee on a glitzy Hollywood platform.

Wallace Henley is a former pastor, White House, and congressional aide. He served eighteen years as a teaching pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church. Wallace, the author of more than twenty books, now  does conferences on the church and culture, church growth and leadership. He is the founder of Belhaven University's Master of Ministry Leadership Degree.

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